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Three Rows of Luxury – Lincoln Aviator vs Acura MDX

Chris Kaiser

The Aviator is Lincoln’s return to the mid-size SUV, but Acura’s MDX has been a best-seller in the segment for years. We explore how these two luxury models stack up, below.

Intro – American Luxury, Japanese Reliability

2020 Lincoln Aviator - lincoln.com

2020 Lincoln Aviator – lincoln.com  |  Shop 2020 Lincoln Aviator on Carsforsale.com

Admittedly, there are two very different reasons for buying either the Lincoln Aviator or the Acura MDX. The Aviator looks to vanquish the likes of the Cadillac XT6 or the Mercedes GLS. Meanwhile, the Acura MDX has long run neck and neck with the Lexus RX 350 as a best-selling luxury SUV. The Lincoln has the high end, while the Acura offers amenities aplenty at a more affordable price point.

2020 Acura MDX - acura.com

2020 Acura MDX – acura.com  |  Shop 2020 Acura MDX on Carsforsale.com

After a 16-year hiatus, the Aviator nameplate has returned to Lincoln with a good bit of flair and swagger. Meanwhile, the MDX has been outselling Lincolns, Cadillacs, and Mercedes with a potent mix of comfort, tech, and Honda’s storied reliability. We wanted to know which of these two was the better option for those in the market for a third-row luxury SUV.

Specs – Flying the Friendly Skies

Though both the Aviator and the MDX offer ample horsepower and attractive hybrid options, they are different animals when it comes to their powertrains. The Lincoln looks to the rarified air of luxury competitors like Mercedes by offering a full stable of horses under the hood. The Acura takes the more practical route of simplicity and efficiency.

2020 Lincoln Aviator 3.0L V6 engine - carsforsale.com
2020 Lincoln Aviator 3.0L V6 engine - carsforsale.com

The Lincoln Aviator offers two powertrains. The first is a 3.0L twin turbo V6 making 400hp and 415lb.-ft. of torque. The second is a hybrid option adding an electric motor to the mix and galloping all the way to 495hp and 630lb.-ft. of torque. Both options are paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission. Fuel efficiency on the standard V6 is 18 city/26 highway in rear-wheel drive and 17/24 when equipped with all-wheel drive. The hybrid not only gets an impressive 56MPGe, it also has plug-in charging which grants an all-electric range of 21 miles. Towing maxes out at 6,700lbs. when properly equipped.

2020 Acura MDX 3.5L V6 engine - carsforsale.com
2020 Acura MDX 3.5L V6 engine - carsforsale.com

The Acura MDX also features two powertrains. This starts with a standard 3.5L V6 making a respectable 290hp and 267lb.-ft. of torque mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission. The hybrid option here is a 3.0L V6 in combination with an electric motor making 321hp and 289lb.-ft. of torque and paired with a 7-speed dual clutch transmission. Fuel economy starts with the front-wheel drive model at 20 city/27 highway, all-wheel drive optioned versions at 19/26, and the mild-hybrid (which is AWD only) at 26 city/27 highway. Towing tops out at 5,000lbs.

Driving – Hammers and Scalpels

The horsepower gulf between these two vehicles is noticeable behind the wheel, with the Aviator producing a wallop of torque that the MDX just isn’t equipped to match. And yet, the Acura feels nimble and responsive in its own right.

2020 Lincoln Aviator - lincoln.com
2020 Lincoln Aviator - lincoln.com

Even without the extra oomph of the hybrid powertrain, the Aviator’s abundance of power more than compensates for its 5,600lbs.-plus curb weight. Highway passing is a breeze, with plenty of motivation all the way up the rev range. The drive modes of Normal, Slippery, Deep Conditions (mud, snow, and sand), and Excite (read “Sport” mode) are all genuinely distinct, as well as functional.

2020 Acura MDX - acura.com
2020 Acura MDX - acura.com

The MDX might be a step or two down the power scale from the Aviator, but it’s still a pleasure to drive. While not a rocket ship by any means, you’re never left truly wanting when you apply the throttle in the MDX. There’s ample muscle for nearly every driving situation you’ll encounter. Steering is well-weighted, and the suspension is supple enough for hours of highway driving but also stiff enough to prevent this third-row SUV from wallowing through corners.

Comfort and Interior – Clearly, There Are Levels

Even with the pyrotechnics that come with the Aviator’s V6 options, most daily driving in either it or the MDX are guaranteed to be placid. Both vehicles’ suspensions are tuned for comfortable rides befitting their luxury labels. In the Aviator’s case the available air-suspension somehow improves on an already great ride, even automatically lowering to accommodate ease of entry and loading. The rides may be smooth and quiet in both the Aviator and the MDX, but the dissimilarities jump out when evaluating the fit and finish of these two vehicles.

The MDX does feel every bit the gussied-up Honda Pilot it is. Materials are nice, with plenty of the soft touchpoints and there’s ample room for passengers and cargo, including a genuinely functional third row. The overall layout is intuitive and ergonomic, nothing feels awkward or out of reach. The only misstep here is the choice of a dual screen step up for the infotainment system, splitting the navigation and HVAC/entertainment controls (an 8-inch screen on top and a 7-inch screen below). It feels like an odd choice, but there is the benefit of not having to toggle between navigation and infotainment if you want to change a song or adjust the climate control.

The Aviator feels like another level above the MDX when it comes to creature comforts (it’s also priced accordingly, see below). The trim inside the Aviator turns up the luxury to the Goldilocks level of just right. Alcantara, suede, wood, and brushed aluminum are all perfectly balanced in their application. The seats in all three rows are comfortable, but the driver gets the best bits with options for not only heating (also available in the second row) and ventilation, as well as massage and 30-way adjustability. The independent power thigh bolstering is just the cherry on top. The Reveal 28-speaker audio system is another high point.

Trims and Features – All That Glitters is Gloss Black

Lincoln Aviator

2020 Lincoln Aviator Stardard - lincoln.com
2020 Lincoln Aviator Stardard - lincoln.com

The base trim Aviator starts at $51,000. Standard features include a 10.1-inch touchscreen with Ford’s SYNC 3 infotainment software, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, heated front seats, and a WiFi hotspot. The Aviator also comes standard with Lincoln’s Co-Pilot 360 safety tech suite that includes blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alerts, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking, and driver drowsiness monitor.

2020 Lincoln Aviator Black Label Grand Touring - lincoln.com
2020 Lincoln Aviator Black Label Grand Touring - lincoln.com

At its top trim, the Aviator Black Label starts at $77,695 before options. The first of those options is that hybrid powertrain that ups the price to an eye-watering $87,800 with the Black Label Grand Touring. While we were fans of the electric only range and increased power, a full $10,000 jump feels a bit steep here. Regardless, the Black Label comes opulently appointed with a heated steering wheel, the aforementioned 30-way adjustable power driver’s seat, 28-speaker Reveal audio system, adaptive cruise control, park assist, and a high-res heads-up display.

Acura MDX

2020 Acura MDXs with the Advance Package - acura.com
2020 Acura MDXs with the Advance Package - acura.com

The Acura MDX starts more modestly at $44,400. That entry point explains one of the key appeals for the MDX. As we noted in a previous article, the choice between a lower trim luxury vehicle and high trim mass-market one usually favors the luxury option, even at the same price point.

2020 Acura MDX SH-AWD Package - acura.com
2020 Acura MDX SH-AWD Package - acura.com

The first option here is the available all-wheel drive, which adds $2,000 and a sure-footed ride regardless of road conditions. The base MDX comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, tri-zone automatic climate control, keyless entry, and a moonroof. The Acura Watch safety suite includes lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation, and lane departure warnings.

2020 Acura MDX A-Spec Package - acura.com
2020 Acura MDX A-Spec Package - acura.com

The MDX doesn’t offer traditional trim levels and instead offers an escalating scale of packages. The Tech Package adds blind spot monitoring, a 10-speaker ELS stereo system, remote start, rear cross traffic alerts, and navigation, all at $49,400. The A-Spec Package adds interior and exterior trim upgrades. The Advanced Package adds a heated steering wheel, 360° camera, and a HUD. The Entertainment Package tops things off at $60,150 with features like a 9-inch rear seat screen and a heated second row.

Conclusions – All About That Budget

At a hypothetical budget of $57,000 for either the MDX Advanced Package or the mid-trim Aviator Reserve, you’ll be getting a lot more bang for your buck with the Lincoln. Both are fairly even in terms of features, but the Aviator’s refined interior and robust engine put it clearly in the lead.

2020 Lincoln Aviator - lincoln.com
2020 Lincoln Aviator - lincoln.com

However, there are X-factors involved here. Namely Honda’s reputation for reliability, which is both deserved and a rarity in the field of luxury vehicles. Though Lincolns aren’t as notoriously finicky to maintain as their German counterparts, they can be almost as expensive to fix.

2020 Acura MDX - acura.com
2020 Acura MDX - acura.com

The other major consideration is whether the Aviator is worth the price at the low end. At around $50,000 a mid-level MDX offers more in the way of tech and safety features than the base Aviator. So, for those on a tighter budget, the Acura is a great option. But all things being equal, the Lincoln Aviator makes a bold statement that’s hard to deny.

WINNER: 2020 Lincoln Aviator

2020 Lincoln Aviator - lincoln.com

2020 Lincoln Aviator – lincoln.com  |  Shop 2020 Lincoln Aviator on Carsforsale.com

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Chris Kaiser
Chris Kaiser

Chris’ greatest passions include topiary, spelunking, and pushing aging compact cars well past 200,000 miles on cross-country road trips. His taste in cars runs from the classic and esoteric to the deeply practical with an abiding affection for VW Things, old Studebakers, and all things hybrid-crossover.

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